Monday, January 15, 2018

I am President of the California Genealogical Society

This past Saturday (January 13), I was elected President of the California Genealogical Society, now it its 120th year. 

This is both amazing, and unremarkable, at the same time.

During our annual meeting, we focused on the "great 8s": founded in 1898, focusing on our eight great-grandparents, here in 2018.

When CGS was founded, genealogy was largely a hobby of the affluent, who wanted to prove their noble bloodlines. Charlatans arose to swindle the nouveaux riches with bogus pedigrees. Those who took genealogy seriously saw the need to maintain rigorous standards based upon verified research, and created genealogical societies to support these efforts.

Genealogy has changed so much over the past 120 years. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons) made resources freely (or inexpensively) available to people around the world to trace their ancestors lives. Television shows like Roots popularized the notion that our family history could be important for ordinary folk - even the most marginalized, even people who weren't white. Inexpensive computer tools, websites, and eventually genetic tests helped people who wanted to ground themselves in a past and a place in a society where people moved frequently, were often rootless, and didn't feel like a part of something greater. Genealogy became one of the most popular "hobbies" in the U.S.

I am representative of these newer genealogists, and so unlike the traditional ones.

My own great-grandparents back in 1898 were nowhere near California, nor where they the class of people from whom the original members descended.

In 1898, my father's grandparents had not yet emigrated to the U.S., but were living in what is now Poland but was then the Russian Empire. His fathers people were skilled craftsmen, and his mother's family were farmers.

My mother's paternal grandfather, James Brady, who came to the U.S. from England as a child, was serving in the Spanish-American war. He would later be wounded, be denied a disability pension due to a pre-existing condition, and would die during the great Influenza epidemic in 1918. His future wife, Alice Waters, was still a teenager living with her parents in Manhattan. 

My mother's maternal grandparents were new U.S. citizens, having emigrated from what is now Poland in the 1890s, but then was the Austro-Hungarian Empire, living in a small coal mining village in Pennsylvania.

There is no affluence in my background - I am descended from hard working laborers, craftsmen and engineers who designed machines and built cities, both with their own hands and with the tools they mastered.

In that sense, I am not the sort of person who traditionally leads genealogical organizations. Blue collar, not blue blood.

Furthermore, I am a post-operative transsexual woman legally married to a woman - it is likely that I am the first openly transgender head of a major genealogical organization. 

My first (ex) spouse now legally identifies as "non-binary": neither male nor female. This wasn't even a legal option when I joined CGS.

The founders of CGS would not recognize my family history. Indeed, the software that exists on the market today doesn't recognize my family. And I am not alone.

We now increasingly realize that in the past, families and relationships were far more complex than we dared speak in public. Today, we live very different lives. 

CGS stands on the bridge between the past and the future of something we have taken for granted: how we view and report the past, and the histories, the realities, of our families. And CGS is and shall remain a leader in moving us into that new future, with a diverse, inclusive leadership dedicated to the highest quality genealogy.

I have been a leader in CGS pushing for strategic planning because of this evolution, and thus it is natural that I become President. In that sense, my election is unremarkable.

In another 120 years, people will look back on us today so very differently than we view ourselves. Perhaps they will find us rigid and old-fashioned, or they will have moved in some direction that we cannot imagine.

I believe that knowing where we came from is important to understanding who we are, and where we are going. It grounds us in the past, and places us in the present. We can embrace with pride the good of our roots, and repudiate the bad. We can recognize how blessed and cursed we all are by those who came before us, which I think is important to coming to peace with it. 

One thing I do know - times will change. I am dedicated to helping CGS keep up with that change. And I am so glad that I am not alone moving forward, but with an amazing team of dedicated leaders of a talented organization of dedicated seekers of their roots.

We are grounded in the past and spreading upwards to the future.


Friday, January 5, 2018

New Online Newspaper Archive Options - Bay Area Reporter - Oldest continuously operating LGBT newspaper in U.S.

Finding resources regarding LGBT people is often difficult. Families often distance themselves from LGBT members, and until very recently, newspapers and other sources spoke indirectly about people's sexual orientation and gender identity. Hence, LGBT people were either disowned, or their identities hidden in obituaries and other sources.

Some of the best sources for information about the LGBT community are archives of newspapers and other periodicals focused on LGBT people. And the oldest continuously published LGBT newspaper is San Francisco's Bay Area Reporter, which has been operating since 1971. 

I have previously noted that the BAR has a searchable obituary database, which is a treasure trove of information, particularly about men who died of AIDS and whose families hid their disease because they did not want to acknowledge their sexual orientation.

They anticipate completing the entire project by the end of the year.

These archival materials for pre-2005 issues will be available both on the Internet Archive and on the California Digital Newspaper Collection.  2005 and later issues can be found at the link above.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Welcome to 2018!

Welcome to 2018!

I know that I often promise to post more, but this year I will try to do so, as I am making organized genealogy my focus for my off-hours.

Also, I anticipate several exciting developments for my own genealogical "professional" development in 2018, and I want to promote and discuss several exciting developments at the California Genealogical Society, so I am making my first 2018 New Year's Genealogy Resolution:

Resolution #1: I will post, on average at least once per week on this blog.

Let's see if I can key this up until at least February!

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

I love GRIP!

I am away at the Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh (GRIP) for a one week institute entitled "Tracing Your Eastern European Roots."

This is my first week-long institute, and I think that I am hooked.

I would have posted this yesterday or the day before, but through a series of unfortunate temporary missteps on my part I was unable to get this up.

We have about 150 genealogists studying in six courses. This is a new course for GRIP, as I understand it, and so I wanted to take advantage of it. It is tough to find good genealogical trainings related to Eastern Europe.

We are meeting on the campus of La Roche College in north Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I am actually staying in a dorm room, by myself, using a laptop attached to an Ethernet cable - no wifi, no decent 4G coverage. I am eating in a college cafeteria.

Anyone who has known me for a long time will know that this is pretty much my idea of heaven...genealogy on a college campus! Give me a TV, my clothes, and a car, and I could live here

Just kidding! I miss Cynthia and the pets too much for that. (Of course, Cynthia and I did live in student housing when we first got together...)

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Absence Truly Can Make The Heart Grow Fonder

No, I am not referring to my absence from blogging, although I guess this applies to that as well.

Nor does it refer to the fact that I am sitting at Burbank Airport, thinking about how I am skipping Genealogy Jamboree again this year. Maybe next year.

I am referring instead to the past month or so when I have been acting president of the California Genealogical Society. Our illustrious leader, President Linda Okazaki, has been recovering from planned surgery, and I got to chair meetings and monitor some emails while she was gone.

CGS, like many genealogy organizations, is an all-volunteer organization. However, unlike most societies, we maintain a large and active private physical library with dozens of volunteers, with a very busy educational program (we have pretty much at least one Special Interest Group or class every week).

It takes a lot to run such an amazing group, and Linda has been unbelievable. She is, in essence, an unpaid executive director.

Linda is going to be back running meetings, etc. and I am very happy that she is recovering well and so dedicated.

So publicly, THANKS LINDA!

Geneabloggers Website Winding Down

Thomas MacEntee recently announced that he is essentially winding down his website. He will be phasing out various regular features, and then moving his new content to a to-be announced website that will be the landing page for his various online and offline endeavors.

He and I have been friends since before either of us got heavily into genealogy, and so I tend to follow his various endeavors fairly closely. 

I wish him the best of luck, and I will follow up with additional information as it becomes authoritative.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

My First Class Went Well - I Think

I presented my first genealogy lecture/class - Eastern European Genealogy, for the California Genealogical Society at our library in Oakland on Saturday, February 11, 2017.

We had a full house, and due to a scheduling snafu (it was listed at two different times in different places), we started at 1:30 p.m. All told, I think we had just under the 30 people signed up, as we had two people from the waiting list seated.

We went a full two hours, and very few people left. I hope that means that people enjoyed it.

Only one or two people came up to me at the end. The only real comment was from someone more qualified to teach the course than I am, who thought that I should have encouraged folk to not use Google translate but to instead learn to read the original languages. I chose to try to make the field seem more accessible, which I think is probably best for most people.

I am always insecure about making presentations, and without positive feedback, I will remain nervous about it.

The experience was very helpful, and I have a much better idea of what to do to improve the class if/when I present it again.

I was hoping to start a CGS Facebook Eastern European group, but that didn't happen at the time. I will try to get something started soon - I am traveling a lot in the next few months, and I want to get this taken care of before I forget.